I Watched It So You Don’t Have To: The Florida Project

I Watched It So You Don’t Have To: The Florida Project

This movie is clearly a psychological experiment – It’s a test to see how much of an award-winning movie (that, of course, doesn’t deserve any awards) you are willing to endure. This 2017 movie, a darling among critics – who by-the-way are critics because they couldn’t write or direct a good movie of their own – is an alleged slice-of-life dramedy, a window into the very real inequity that takes place in the shadow of a fairy tale (that being Disney World; wow, subtle metaphor there). Unfortunately, the movie winds up being less about inequity than the amoral exploits of the people in their particular circumstances.

The main character is 6-year old Moonee, played by Brooklyn Prince, who was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Young Performer when really, she’s being directed to be a brat the entire movie which can’t be much of a challenge for any child her age. Moonee and her friends proceed to basically be little s(beep)s the entire movie, never reined in by anyone much less Moonee’s mother who is so free of a moral compass you keep hoping for her to die of a drug overdose and just be done with it. And therein lies one of the movie’s biggest problems – no likable characters.

Willem Defoe’s turn as the hapless motel manager almost gets us there, but his heart is more bronze than gold, never really being of more consequence than running off a potential child molester. (Okay, I guess we should be thankful.) Every other character is of no consequence to the world; if they disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow, no one would care. None of the characters develop. There’s a hint of conflict halfway through the movie between Moonee’s mother and her best friend that is ultimately cast aside because the mother’s friend decides to move, perhaps in the best interest of her child though we can’t be sure. And so, any chance for any of the characters to grow is muted. I’m not saying a story has to give us at least one flawless character but as far as plots go, the audience needs someone to root for. The kids would presumably be those characters here, but they’re so damn annoying the entire time you want to see them caged.

Secondly, ‘as far as plots go,’ nothing really happens in this movie. There is no plot. The movie focuses heavily on the children’s screeching exploits which, as I just said, gets old really fast whether you have kids or not. Descriptions of the movie would have us believe the children are ‘finding magic’ in their circumstance when in fact they’re just being little beep-holes. While I understand they’re operating with zero parental supervision, this is not cause for sympathy. I can’t be sympathetic when said lack of supervision or guidance brings out the worst tendencies in children which, when you look into the future of these characters, is not going to be appealing. This is beaten into our heads over the movie’s two hour runtime.

What I will concede is that the movie is as well acted as any other movie and that it looks authentic. Well, great. Is that supposed to endear me to the characters, to their non-existent story? This movie doesn’t take us anywhere that matters and it’s not going to make anyone who sees this movie sit up and say, “We need to help these people!” The filmmakers would love us to feel this way but not actually do anything about it, hence, this is not actually art.

The Florida Project is the kind of movie that Hollywood liberals love for ‘opening our eyes’ to the raw underbelly of America, as if they keep forgetting it exists and so they are humbled by the reminder. They want audiences to be reminded as well, which also makes the movie the kind of movie that inclines left-leaning independents want to purchase guns and Confederate flags as a hedge against Hollywood’s pretentiousness. In other words, this is a movie in which you will only lose by watching it. For the sake of your own sanity, avoid this movie.

The Florida Project is currently streaming on Netflix. Don’t watch it.

The Memory of Justice

The Memory of Justice

Humberto, a low-level street hustler turned murderous drug kingpin, would insist he feared nothing. He’d been shot and stabbed many times himself, to say nothing of the deaths of his extended family members he witnessed firsthand. Just a part of doing business, really, as long as his wife and daughter were left alone. There are rules you follow in The Business and going after women and children will surely put a target on your back, not that being top dog didn’t. The smooth tongued, slick-haired kingpin didn’t fear death even as he lay on a stainless steel gurney, electrodes attached to his head, strapped down and immobilized. At least the well-lit white room seemed a sanitary place to die.

“Do you know what this is?” a light-skinned African woman in a white lab coat asked as she held a syringe up to Humberto’s face. Inside the syringe waxed a viscous silver liquid. The doctor, Dr. Ingla, was smiling, her lips and eyes as bright as the room.

Humberto turned his head to look at the syringe, then at Dr. Ingla’s mocha face, then away. He didn’t care. It could be the sedative, it could be potassium chloride to stop his heart; what difference did it make? He just wanted to get to the task at hand.

“Just do it, puta,” the convict said.

Dr. Ingla wrapped the cusp of her hand around the bottom of Humberto’s mouth, squeezed, and pulled his face back towards her. “Don’t be rude,” she replied.

“You’ve told a lot of people you’re not afraid to die, Humberto Georgio Aruda,” the physician spoke as she slung the man’s face aside. “You’re not here to die today.”

“What are you talking about?” Humberto growled and he bolted against the restraints. “I am ready. I have made my peace. My family knows I am not coming back. Now do your job and stop playing around.”

The straps would restrain a world class powerlifter. Dr. Ingla folded her arms, syringe still in hand, and rested herself on Humberto’s arm. “How many people have you killed, Humberto?”

“Enough to find myself here. What are you waiting for?” the criminal shouted.

“Humberto,” the doctor spoke calmly, “I want you to think, think really hard, about how many people you’ve killed. Think about that number. Try to see the faces of your victims. Do this for me and you just might get to see your wife and daughter again.”

“What game is this, puta? You’re not policia or I’d already be free. Who are you? Interpol? CIA?” Humberto tried to rise against the restraints. He didn’t have as much success as rising from the ranks of a petty criminal.

“It doesn’t really matter,” the doctor said holding the syringe up to her face, “What matters is that you’re our first real test of a new criminal rehabilitation system. This experiment is going to reshape criminal justice around the world.”

She lowered the needle and widened her eyes at her subject. “Aren’t you excited?”

Nobody tests Humberto Georgio Aruda. “Whatever you think you’re going to do to me, it won’t work. Just kill me instead.”

Dr. Ingla turned her head towards the two-way mirror in the room. “Let’s begin,” she said as she returned her attention to the test subject.

“I asked you to think about all those people you killed, Humberto. We’ve confirmed twenty-nine murders you’ve personally been involved in to say nothing of all the hits you’ve ordered, but we won’t hold you accountable for those. What would you say if I took all those memories of the people you’ve killed away?”

Humberto smirked. “It would make no difference to me. Most of those people I could not care if they lived or died; many of them were examples to others. It’s just business. If you took those memories away,” the drug lord continued with cocksureness in his voice, “It would not change who I am. It wouldn’t change what I am capable of.”

Dr. Ingla’s eyebrows floated up and the edges of her mouth tweaked upwards a touch. “We anticipated this answer. I respect your attempt to goad us into simply killing you. Instead, another question: Is there something in your past that made you who you are? Or do you think who you are is just a matter of fate, that you’re a born killer and criminal?”

“Ah,” Humberto laughed, “You think you’re going to take some life-altering memory from me that set me down the path of wickedness.”

“Not quite,” the physician replied, needling the air with the syringe. “We’re going to find that life-altering memory and make you relive it twenty-nine times.”

The criminal flattened his nose and squinted at his captor. He watched silently as Dr. Ingla pierced the skin of his upper arm and pushed the syringe’s silver liquid into his body.

“What’s going to happen is that after this, after you wake up, we’re going to release you and you’re going to go home to your family and daughter. But now every time you think of murdering someone, you’ll be forced to recall your worst memory. Every time you want to murder someone, you’re going to be punished.”

The kingpin turned his head away. “I can pay you,” Humberto said flatly.

“Mmm hmm,” the doctor leaned away. “Like you pay off the local police? We paid them more for you than you paid them to protect you. That’s how it works around here, isn’t it, the highest bidder gets what they want? People like you, they always think it simply comes down to money. Too bad for you that around here it’s true.”

“What happens next?” the prisoner wanted to know, his lip and nose snarled to one side. Dr. Ingla had simply gotten up and walked away, though, before vanishing behind a steel door. “What happens next?” Humberto yelled.

Dr. Ingla joined two colleagues behind the two-way mirror. “Run the sequencer,” she ordered stoically. The scientists observed the two monitors; one was building a visual map of Humberto’s neural circuitry and the other screen was split between measuring neurotransmitter and hormone levels and blood-flow throughout the criminal’s brain. Dr. Ingla’s lips pouted and she leaned forward to punch some commands into the computer keyboards.

“Something wrong?” one of her generic assistants asked. Every time, Dr. Ingla could not remember the man’s name.

“Dopamine and serotonin levels should be lower. Epinephrine levels should be higher. There’s too much blood flow to his amygdala. He’s recalling a favorite memory. That shouldn’t be possible.”

“But you can see exactly what he’s remembering,” the female colleague reminded Dr. Ingla of her research. “Can you display it?”

The lead scientist tacked the keyboard furiously for a quarter of a minute before the world through the kingpin’s eyes popped up on the left monitor. Humberto was at his wedding and standing before his bride at the alter. The priest was speaking in Latin it appeared, had stopped as applause commenced, while Humberto stepped forward to kiss his wife. As the newlyweds’ lips touched, Humberto’s amygdala – his brain’s pleasure center – spiked. His wife whispered into his ear, “Estoy embarazada.”

“Did she just tell him she’s pregnant?” the female colleague asked.

“This doesn’t make sense,” Dr. Ingla’s forehead crinkled. Her own epinephrine levels were rising. Butterflies swirled in her stomach as her brain flip-flopped for an explanation. The physician’s eyes ping-ponged between the monitors and Humberto strapped to the gurney.

“I get it, I get it,” she announced. “He’s so happy it scares him, scared of what the consequences could be for his family. If anyone ever chose the break the rules of The Business. Not what I expected but it’ll still work. Sequence One complete. Beginning Sequence Two…”

Dr. Ingla was talking to herself by now as her two colleagues had entered the white room to tend to the drug lord. The woman lifted Humberto’s eyelids to check his pupils with a small flashlight while the man began unfastening the restraints.

The lead physician slid into the open doorway. “What the hell are you doing? Don’t let him up yet. He hasn’t finished cycling through this memory. Stop! Let the memory cycle through.”

Humberto was already rising from the gurney, his movements not quite as sharp as usual due to the high he’d been administered, but cognizant nonetheless. “We are letting the memory cycle through, doctor, we are,” the kingpin nodded with piercing eyes and a wry smile.

Dr. Ingla’s colleagues approached her without any hint of aggression until they were beside her. Then they quickly latched a hold of her arms and forced her to her knees. The doctor didn’t understand; questions that were bouncing around in her head were now overcome with a burning in her abdomen. Humberto had kicked her so hard she spat blood a foot in front of her. The kingpin leaned sideways to catch Dr. Ingla’s eye.

“It simply comes down to money, doctor. What, you think you’ve paid the police more money than I’m going to pay them over the course of my life? You think my culture, that my people are stupid? They took your money and they’re going to keep taking my money. They’re smart,” Humberto illustrated by pointing to his temple with his fingers fashioned like a gun.

“You’re smart, too,” Humberto continued. “I can think of many applications for your work. Which is why you’re going to work for me now. Every time you think you’re not going to or that you’re going to escape me? Well…” the criminal waved his hands around the bright room.

“This can’t be happening,” Dr. Ingla streamed tears out of her eyes. “I’m just having a bad dream.” She squeezed her eyes shut trying to avoid reality.

“Ah, the difference is, doctor, you’re going to remember this one for a long time.”

Dr. Ingla looked up at her captor, slack in her body. “Please, just kill me…”

Humberto squatted down and lifted the physician’s chin up to his face. “But puta,” he cooed, “we’ve only just begun.” He stood up and moved his lips out of the doctor’s field of vision. “Don’t let her go yet, not until the memories finish cycling through.”

 

All Rights Reserved © December 2019 John J Vinacci

Dr. Beasley’s Bank Heist (Part 1)

Dr. Beasley’s Bank Heist (Part 1)

He sat upright, straight as a plank with his chin raised in the grey wooden chair. The British gentleman, his hair curled but thinning, swept his eyes across the dreary confines of the interrogation room. Only, this wasn’t an interrogation; he wasn’t under arrest so this was going to be more of a conversation than anything else. The retired engineer’s wrinkled hands rested on the brass hilt of his cane. He tapped his walking stick impatiently. Who keeps the elderly waiting? Honestly now, the gentleman thought.

A burly and balding plain-clothed cop slid abruptly into the room as if trying to obscure his guest’s view of the hallway. The man’s bulk would have obstructed the English gent’s view anyway, the donut shop around the corner from the police station surely playing no role in the cliché. At least the officer’s big Sicilian nose was a breath of fresh air; the engineer had known most Italians in his heyday to be mobsters. The cop snorted as he sat down to the polished metal table across from the old man.

“Okay, Mr…Beasley,” the policeman started as he looked down at his yellow notepad, “Tha desk sergeant said ya have some new information regarding the Midtown Bank robbery that took place this time last year? I don’t know if you read the news, sir, but the criminals were all caught. They confessed, they were tried and are currently in prison. The case is closed.” The officer finally looked up with wide eyes and raised eyebrows. “You’d like ta add something ta that?”

“It’s Dr. Beasley, actually.” The hefty cop looked down and scribbled something on his pad. “No, I don’t wish to add anything to that particular incident. As you said, the perpetrators are all in jail now; what more is there to say?” The senior smiled while the corner of the officer’s mouth dropped. “What more is there to say except, well, it was just so unimaginative, wasn’t it? They go in toting firearms and scare everyone half to death, they get a good bit of cash from the tellers and the patrons’ wallets, but derailed their own plans by wearing easily traceable disguises, planning their escape in an impossible-to-miss vehicle and didn’t bother to cover or change the license plate. Of course you were going to catch them all at a men’s club that very night!”

The refined engineer leaned back in his chair with his arms stretch forward to keep himself righted on his cane. The policeman shook his head and leaned towards the gentleman.

“I’m sorry, Dr…Beasley,” the cop began in that tawdry local accent the elder man had always frowned upon. “I’m afraid if ya have nothing to add ta this case, I have other matters to attend ta.”

“Oh, you mustn’t go yet, Officer…” the engineer looked for a badge he could read a name on but the officer’s dated grey jacket concealed his beltline. “…Officer of Some Importance. Surely you’ll want to be the one who stops the next Midtown Bank robber.” The policeman had started getting up from his seat but stopped and sat back down.

“Whadda you talkin’ about?”

“I know who is going to rob the bank next. I also know exactly when,” Dr. Beasley stopped and beamed.

A veteran of the force, the law man had never had such a hot tip. He waited but the senior just smiled. The officer opened and clasped his hands, accompanied by a raised eyebrow. “Would ya like ta share this information and how ya know it?”

“Oh, I am glad you asked,” the retiree chirped. “I’m privy to this knowledge because I’m the robber! I’m going to rob the Midtown bank in exactly…” The old man scooped a fob out of his vest pocket. “…thirteen days and seventeen hours. Well, just under seventeen hours now.”

The policeman slumped back in his chair then came forward again. “Sir, I don’t know if ya know how most criminals work, but they don’t usually announce their intensions ahead a time. Would ya like to tell me why you’re confessing ta something ya haven’t done yet?”

The retiree leaned with one arm on the table towards the officer. He lowered his voice though there was no one else in the room. “Because you won’t catch me.” Dr. Beasley threw himself back into his chair with great fanfare, tossing an arm into the air.

“Oh, isn’t every criminal’s dream to plan the perfect crime, to taunt the police and get away with it? That’s why I’m here today, to tell you, Officer of Some Importance, that even through you know who and when, you can’t stop me. You can fill that bank with a hundred police men – even a S.W.A.T. unit or two – and you won’t be able to stop me. Ooo, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.” The old engineer threw an arm over the back of his chair while he crossed his legs.

The officer grinned as his head hemmed and hawed. “I could arrest ya know if ya’d like, that’d stop ya, huh? Charge ya with conspiracy ta commit a felony? I’m not sure what your angle is here, Doc.”

“Oh, certainly, you could arrest me but a conspiracy requires two people and I’m the only one who’s planned the robbery. And, as you know, just planning to commit a crime isn’t itself a crime unless you can prove I’ve taken substantial steps towards committing the dastardly deed. To that end you never will; you won’t find any building plans in my home or places I frequent, no firearms, no disguises, no digital footprints, no “How to rob a bank” Google searches, no questionable reading materials checked out at the library; I don’t even own a car. And you can question everyone I know; they’ll all agree I’m an agreeable man.”

“So ya think I’m gonna let ya walk out the door and lose sleep over this confession of yours?” The hefty Sicilian man rose to his feet. “Look, we’ve got your information and we know what ya look like, so if there’s any trouble at the Midland Bank, we’ll be sure ta stop by and say ‘hello.’ Otherwise, I’m afraid we can’t spare the money or the manpower to investigate an old man right now.”

Dr. Beasley’s chest rocked as he chuckled silently. “Exactly what I was expecting, to be overlooked because of my age if not my refinement. That’s some sort of discrimination, I’m sure. And I surely don’t care because you, my law enforcement friend, are going to be quite surprised when you discover that age and refinement is exactly what it takes to pull of the perfect crime.”

“Yeah, that’s great, pal. Look, I’m gonna go do some real police work now,” the cop thumbed towards the door. “You’re free ta go. Have a nice day. Give my regards ta the Queen or whoever is in charge of merry ol’ England these days.” The policeman gave a two finger salute, slipped out the door and left it a crack open.

“Unfortunate that you’re going to be penalized for overlooking me, my Sicilian friend. That is, unless you show up to try and stop me. Perhaps things will work out for you then.”

The gentleman drove his cane into the ground in order to power himself to the upright position. He dusted some non-existent dirt off his vest and proceed to exit the station. Outside, the October sunshine was still a bit cool on his face. But, in approximately thirteen days, sixteen hours, and forty-five minutes, the sun was going to get much, much warmer.

(To be Continued)

 

All Rights Reserved (c) October 2017 John J Vinacci